DEcember 11, 2021
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace


"I have seen the future," sang Leonard Cohen. "It is murder". Our justice system does not just render private or confidential outcomes: it writes the Narrative, the Directions for our society in letters five miles high, which can be read across America and around the planet: This is the world, each verdict proclaims, you will live in now. The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse posted a gargantuan sign: you can interpose yourself into a demonstration of people hostile to you carrying a semiautomatic weapon, and if they don't like it, you are allowed to shoot them, because their lives aren't worth anything. (If you think this through, Kyle Rittenhouse is a riposte to the Black Lives Matter movement, that not only do black lives not matter, the lives of white people who think black lives matter are forfeit too.)

One of my favorite quotes since my college days is attributed to Talleyrand; when he heard that Napoleon had sent a death squad to kill the Duke D'Enghien, he said, "That's not only a crime, but a mistake". The Rittenhouse verdict has interesting connotations for the "stand your ground" defense beloved of the radical right that loves Kyle Rittenhouse. The people who Rittenhouse killed were, quite exactly and justly, standing their ground under the rule. What "stand your ground" actually accomplishes is to reinstitute the code duello, or its American Western variation, the shoot-out: two people stand their ground, and the survivor, the better shot, is legally vindicated. Having the larger weapon, better aim, and a quicker trigger finger now constitutes civic virtue.

A question only partly answered is whether the rule is as neutral as the NRA claims. If an armed Antifa counterprotester had inserted himself into a "Stop the Steal" demonstration, would the outcome be the same? We have a small signal that this is not so. The cops let Kyle Rittenhouse leave the scene with his weapon, and today he is a hero of the right, even posing for a photo opp with the Trumpoid Object. When Michael Forest Reinoehl, a Black Lives Matter protester in Washington State, shot and killed a Kyle Rittenhouse type at a demonstration, a Marshall's Service team, behaving like a death squad, killed him in a barrage of gunfire as he exited his house unarmed.

The radical Supreme Court

It takes a truly radical court to offend Chief Justice John Roberts, who has contributed very substantially himself to the erosion of American democracy, notably in the Citizens United decision. Yesterday, in an interim ruling in the Texas abortion case, Roberts led the dwindling liberal wing of the Court in a dissent warning the Trumpoid majority that, in their rush to remake American society as a medieval dystopia of barons and serfs, they are endorsing disrespect and the eventual irrelevance of their own institution (the Texas law was cleverly tailored to avoid Supreme Court review). This is bleakly funny: Roberts appears to envision an oligarchy in which the Supreme Court continues to be among the powerful; Justice Amy Coney Barrett doesn't care.

Elon Musk is Mad

In fantasy novels and role playing games, a "glamor" spell gives the subject charisma they would otherwise lack. Silicon Valley and its progenies, including social media, space, and electric vehicles, similarly seem to cast a glamor on people who would otherwise be obviously (and merely) mad, bad and dangerous to know. Elon Musk is one of these. There is a zone in which you can say that a Billionaire Baby simply does not know any better, lives in an echo chamber, etc. Then there is a line beyond which the Billionaire is apparently, you know, trying to fuck with the nature of reality and possibly kill people, like a Marvel supervillain. Nothing suggests more clearly that Musk has crossed this line than the fact that, in the latest release of the Tesla software, the driver can play video games on the car's console as she drives it. Think about that.


For some years, the Spectacle had a third monthly component along with the main essay and this Rags and Bones column: a series of reviews of anything I read or watched in the month, which I flippantly called "Colchicine", an incomprehensible pun for "Culture scene" (it was at once the medicine my rheumatologist father studied, and the way I imagined a true Brooklynite would pronounce the phrase). I stopped bothering when it became harder for me to get around to writing the Spectacle in general, supported by a nagging feeling that few people really care what I think about Cowboy Bebop.

Every once in a while, a movie makes me so indignant it earns a place here (the items above about Rittenhouse, the Court and Musk are very mainstream entries). I watched Wall-E and mildly enjoyed it when it first came out, recognizing the technical mastery of the animation and the cleverness involved in a film much of whose dialog consists of two robots electronically beeping each other's names. On a recent second viewing, I was infuriated by an element I completely missed before: it is a completely phony, packaged story about protest. With the two robots as catalysts, the human race rebels against its present situation of highly contained and propagandized passivity and obesity, and (cheered by a persistent little plant, as, on further thought, I am in the main essay) returns to planet Earth to build a new life. The dishonesty of the film is signaled by the fact (given Pixar corporate sponsorship and all that entails) the end of civilization on earth cannot even be safely attributed to climate change or pollution, but results merely from the piling up of garbage. One of the more impressive random quotes I collected twenty-five years ago, which I frequently still dust off (as I am doing now) was someone's opinion that Newt Gingrich "was a stupid person's idea of a smart person". Wall-E is the power hierarchy's safely packaged idea of a rebellion, a cathartic movie that will please an audience without inspiring any actual protest. Wall-E saves the world so we don't have to.